The hard spine tickled the tip of Rinetta’s ear as she took aim, then fired. The book hit the soft spot of the gremlin’s head: just below the flap of an ear. It squeaked and crumpled on the floor. The gnome behind him halted mid-punch, staring at the angered librarian.
“Look at this mess!” She threw her arm toward the tiny bookcases that had been knocked over during the scuffle. The whole section was scattered on the floor like confetti. Two sprites—Flit and Xinnia, regulars—came in through the window just then, their giggles turning to gasps as they seen their favorite books in disarray.
The gnome had the decency to look ashamed as he picked his hat up from the floor. “I’m awful sorry, ma’am. I di’n’t mean to—Ouch!” He swatted the hat against his elbow just as the two sparkling sprites flew away from it, making indignant noises. “You needn’t pinch!”
Rinetta frowned. “Girls, that’s nonsense. He will atone for what he did.”
“I will?” The gnome looked worried as he tugged his hat over his balding head.
“You must. And girls, you can help.” Rinetta stooped and righted a hand-sized bookcase.
The sprites gathered up armfuls of books and set to re-stocking the shelves, their dragonfly-like wings fluttering while they reached the top shelves. The gnome frowned at their high-pitched humming as he carefully squatted down on the other side of the mess. He pinched a book and tried to place it on a shelf, but his square fingers bumped the edge and the bookcase tottered. The sprites’ humming turned to little squeaks.
Rinetta caught it before it could fall over again. “This is not going to work.” She tapped her lip, trying to think of something that would be more suited to him. “What is your name?”
“I go by Tom, ma’am.”
“Let’s see, Tom… I’ve been thinking about having some flowers in the front. Have you any ideas as to which kind I should get?”
His little eyes sparkled. “Coneflowers bloom most all summer long. I can get some for you. P’raps some asters, too?”
“Oh, yes, that sounds lovely! If you plant a few of those, I will pardon you from the crime of making such a mess in my library.”
“What about Shniwa?”
“Oh, yes.” She had almost forgotten about the unconscious gremlin lying a few feet away. “Drag him out of sight from the library. I hit him with one of the history books; that genre has the strongest disremembering spell I have ever found. He won’t be able to recall the fight.”
“Aye, he won’t remember the lesson I was teaching ‘im about—” Tom’s grumbling stopped in his throat when he caught Rinetta’s gaze. “G’day, ma’am.”
“Good day, Tom.”
Rinetta was relieved that there hadn’t been any blood shed. The spells needed to remove blood from paper were time consuming.
Once Flit and Xinnia selected their books and left, Rinetta was left to a quiet library. She knew it wouldn’t last long, so she took advantage of the time to stoke the fire behind her desk and place a kettle atop the flames. The water heated quickly. She removed the kettle with a pair of tongs, poured the water into her mug, and threw in a few peppermint leaves. They were just beginning to emit a pleasant, relaxing aroma when the door opened. A young elf walked in.
He walked toward the desk like one well trained: chin up, shoulders down. “Are you the Mistress of Learning?”
She smiled and inclined her head. “Some would call me that. How may I help you?”
“I wish to know what would impress a mermaid.”
“Ahh, a difficult question. Follow me.” She led him to the low bookcases that sat on the shore of a man-made river that ran under the walls. The books here were waterproof. She selected a few for him.
“Thank you, Mistress.” He made a stately bow and left.
Rinetta returned to her tea, which had cooled. She set the clay mug on the hearth. The scintillating coals with their crimsons and ambers hypnotized her while the sound of rain started to clatter on the roof.
The door opened, and a leprechaun entered. He trudged over to the finances section and selected a book about budgeting. Rinetta’s smile and talk of a coming payday, what with the rain and rainbows sure to follow, did nothing to smooth the hardened lines on his face. He didn’t even make eye contact before he left.
She sighed and opened the book she was currently working on when a clomping sound approached the library door. She looked up to see a centaur cleaning his hooves on the welcome mat. His wet face was tanned and smooth and thoughtful.
“Do you ever look up?” he asked.
“Any time I catch a glimpse of you through the window, your eyes are always bent downwards. Don’t you ever look up?”
Rinetta blushed. “Am I not looking up now?”
“Not at your fellows; I mean at the things greater than ourselves. Like the stars.”
“I can find them in books.”
“Perhaps, but that’s not quite like seeing them in person.”
“I simply haven’t taken the time for it, I suppose.”
He smiled. “Could I have the pleasure of ensuring you do? Tomorrow will be a new moon, and the stars will shine unchallenged.”
“That would be lovely.”
He nodded, then headed back out into the pouring rain.
A grey-haired fairy slipped in the moment after he left. “Oh, the way rain smells almost makes up for how difficult it is to fly through!”
Rinetta smiled. “Good evening, Windella. Ready for your shift?”
“Of course, dear. It’s the perfect job, after all. Now go home and have a good night.”
Rinetta flopped into her chair. “Supper smells amazing, Mom.”
“Thank you! Hopefully it tastes as good as it smells. How was your day—without embellishments?”
“Oh, where to start? Two little boys got in a fight and made a mess, and I had to scold them. One went and sat quietly in a corner, but then some girls came in and got all feisty about seeing their favorite books on the floor. They helped me picked them up while the other little boy ran outside. He came back in a few minutes later with a handful of dandelions for me.”
“Aww, that’s so cute. Did anything else happen?”
“I had just pulled my tea out of the microwave when a young guy wanted a book about how to treat his wife while she was on her period. It was super sweet and worth my tea getting cold. Then the ceiling started leaking again. And I had to tell a grumpy old man that he needed to pay his overdue fines. Not fun.”
Her mom wiggled her eyebrows. “Anything else?”
“Connor may have asked me out on a date.”
Her mom grinned impishly. “I knew it!”
“Of course you did. Any advice?”
“Be yourself, and pray a lot. And maybe stop imagining him as a centaur now.”